Two strange things came out of the Cincinnati Bengals' announcement of their 53-man roster for the 2012 season—they're holding seven wide receivers on the active roster, and a particular undrafted rookie happened to make the team.
That undrafted rookie? Vontaze Burfict. And in doing so, the Bengals released veteran middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, who started at the position in three preseason games while Rey Maualuga recovered from a knee sprain.
Burfict notched 14 tackles, one sack, an interception, two defensed passes and a quarterback hit in a non-starting capacity during the preseason; Muckelroy's numbers are nearly as good, with 19 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and one quarterback hit.
So why Burfict over Muckelroy? Well, for one, there's Burfict's near-limitless upside. On- and off-field issues, as well as disappointing NFL Scouting Combine and pro day appearances caused Burfict to slide completely off all 32 teams' draft boards back in April, and the Bengals snagged themselves a serious bargain by picking him out of the pool of undrafted free agents.
If Burfict had handled himself better, he was potentially a second-round pick this year. And, on the far more disciplined NFL practice field this summer, he absolutely proved that his talent was as advertised.
Head coach Marvin Lewis said in early August that Burfict is, without a doubt, an eventual starter. And now that he's squarely sitting on the depth chart behind Maualuga, who is in a contract year, it's quite possible we'll be seeing Burfict starting in Cincinnati sooner than later.
The same cannot be said for Muckelroy. Though he looked sharp in the preseason as a spot-starter, he does not possess the kind of talent to become an eventual Bengals starter. And though there's certainly nothing wrong with linebacker depth—especially at middle linebacker—Burfict is the perfect No. 2 for Maualuga, and if all else fails, strong-side backer Dan Skuta could also move to the middle.
Burfict's appearance on the 53-man roster might have sparked the end of Muckelroy in Cincinnati, but it was the best move the team could have made. Burfict clearly earned everything he's gotten since going undrafted in April, and considering his pre-draft billing (if you subtract what made him slide so far), it would be shocking if he landed anywhere but on the Bengals' active roster.
The Bengals have made nothing but brilliant moves in the past few years as far as their defensive front seven is concerned. The promotion of Burfict is but the latest and should pay off serious dividends. April's bargain may indeed prove to be a treasure.
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